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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A tip of Beldar's cap to Juan Williams

For my money, the best pundit of the just-past election and transition season, friends and neighbors — either in print, on radio, or on TV — has been Juan Williams, who draws his paychecks from the perhaps improbable combination of NPR and Fox News. That doesn't mean I've agreed with him more than I've agreed with any other pundits. But he has nevertheless earned my respect.

Dating back well into the Democratic primaries during which it first became conceivable that Barack Obama might become POTUS-44, Williams has, for the most part, managed to retain a degree of objectivity about Barack Obama that easily puts him into the top 5% of mainstream media pundits, and into the top 2% of left-of-center pundits. But he has also managed to do so without losing his sincere and distinctive voice as a black man — a man of my own generation, whose own accidental timing of birth spared him from the worst of racial discrimination and segregation, but put him in position to witness first-hand the breath-taking accomplishments of our nation in putting those wicked remnants mostly behind us. If I met Mr. Williams in person, I could not help but hug him, and then tell him how his elemental joy — palpable through his articulate but plain-spoken reactions to events — has infected and moved me. And then I would shake his hand, and commend him for the professionalism which he has imposed upon his emotion — which has made him a valuable voice on the subject of race relations in particular, in addition to politics in general.

Mr. Williams' post-inaugural op-ed in the Wall Street Journal — Judge Obama on Performance Alone — is spot on. Read the whole thing, but here's a typical half-paragraph, which reflects what Williams has preached for many months:

... Every American president must be held to the highest standard. No president of any color should be given a free pass for screw-ups, lies or failure to keep a promise.

He has also spoken frequently — and movingly, and at no small risk — of the symbolic importance that the Obama presidency has, and in particular, the Barack and Michelle Obama First Family have, in providing role models for all American families, and in particular for the black community (in which, sadly but statistically, stable two-parent families are the exception rather than the rule).

A commenter at my blogospheric friend Patterico's blog lamented that Inauguration Day was "[t]he most racist day in American history. MLK wanted people to be judged by the content of their character. But today was all about skin color." I think I understand where he's coming from, and I share some part of his frustration that we're not already farther along — that Obama isn't in fact the first "post-racial" president, and that, indeed, race played a complicated but still-important role in the election and the inauguration, and will likewise play a role in how the Obama Administration is perceived.

But there's no switch to be thrown that will make us all "post-racial." Such things take generations at best, but we can salute (rather than bemoan) the leaps forward. The Emancipation Proclamation was one; Brown v. Board of Education was another; and Barack Obama's election and inauguration, regardless of his success or lack thereof once in office, is yet another. And while I heartily endorse and believe in Chief Justice Roberts' prescription that "[t]he way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race," it's okay to pause to note the momentousness of the remedial strides we've made. It does no good to study history is your soul is dead to its genuine high points.

We're capable of simultaneously embracing both principled discussion and the meta-memes or subtext it portends. Thus we can, without suffering crippling cognitive dissonance, embrace both the notion that it's appropriate to celebrate the inauguration of the first black POTUS — while simultaneously insisting that he ought get no more slack cut on account of his race. Chief Justice Roberts' prescription would fit neatly into Juan William's WSJ op-ed. What more could anyone ask from a thoughtful liberal pundit, regardless of his own skin color?

Posted by Beldar at 06:33 AM in Obama, Politics (2009) | Permalink


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(1) stan made the following comment | Jan 21, 2009 8:39:16 AM | Permalink

On Monday, my kids were out of school and I took them to Shoney's for the breakfast bar that they had requested. A bus carrying a group of mostly older blacks from Mississippi had apparently broken down on the way to DC. They were going to be stuck hanging out there until it could be fixed. I extended an offer to drive anyone over to the nearby mall or drug store, if someone needed anything, but they said no. I know they were worried they might not make it to DC in time.

I didn't vote for Obama. I agree with Shelby Steele that Black America could have done better. And I agree with Steele that America showed it was ready for a black president as far back as 1996. Finally, I'm getting sick of seeing the liberal media gloating on every channel (ESPN, weather, financial, etc.).

But if I were a black who'd grown up in Mississippi in the 40s, 50s or 60s, I damn sure would have wanted to be in DC yesterday. I hope they made it in time.

(2) Joe made the following comment | Jan 21, 2009 2:45:47 PM | Permalink

Juan Williams has been, at least during shows on Fox News Network, usually sensible and not too partisan a participant. He can always think of a different way to look at things from his cohorts.

I never thought of him as black but simply another talking head on the network until someone (outside the network) called him the house Negro for FNN. That made him very mad, understandably, and he expressed that well.

My main disappointment with Mr. Williams is that he fails to see any merit with citizens retaining their second amendment rights. To me he slipped a bit on his pedestal the day he expressed that.

(3) Steve L. made the following comment | Jan 22, 2009 7:47:54 AM | Permalink

I agree with the notion espoused by Chief Justice Roberts. However, the bigest problem is the difference between real discrimination and perceived discrimination. Too often, we hear of cases of discrimination where race (or gender or nationality or...) never entered into the equation. A person didn't receive the outcome they wanted, regardless of the merits, so it must be discrimination.

I realize that we will never completely eradicate that, but we won't appear to make significant progress until we get rid of at least part of it.

(4) LLB made the following comment | Feb 19, 2009 12:54:05 AM | Permalink

I think the Black community was just overwhelmed of the development - having the first African-American president. After years of slavery centuries ago, they finally came to a realization that indeed great things happen to those who wait.

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